Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The Important Poverty of "Enough"

I dreamed all night about chicken.

I was slicing it into pasta with tomatoes and basil, chopping it into Cobb salads with no bacon, baking it, pan-frying it. I woke up tired.

And hungry.

On top of that, I still didn't know what to do with the chicken thawing in the fridge for the company set to arrive in my kitchen later today. The floor is still a little sticky from two nights ago, when Silas and Calvin got into a shoving match over who got to sit on the stool at the island and spilled a gigantic cup of orange juice. The mud room looks like a crime scene. And I can't even talk about the upstairs bathroom.

Here's a confession: the first thing I do every morning is pray read my Bible kiss Cory scroll through my phone. It might be one of the least popular things to admit, but I have a hunch I'm not the only one. And in my defense, my phone only gives me two chances to hit snooze. I max them out daily, then grab the nearest lit object which happens to double as a device which encourages the opening of my beady brown eyes. It wakes me up. Life goes on.

But what sometimes happens is that I end up reading things when I'm only half-awake. That can pose a real threat on even a Thursday or Friday. Just imagine the stakes when it's only Tuesday, and a rainy one, at that.

This morning I had an email from a name I didn't recognize, with a subject line that sounded only vaguely familiar. Turns out, it was in response to a guest post I wrote for The Art of Simple, The Weird Route to Real Community. The timing of being reminded of my own words was...not ideal. Because if what I said was true, if I'm a woman who believes we all land more softly in authentic community when we're willing to be the truest version of ourselves, then I was going to have to get a hold of myself and live like my words have a heart and soul, that they're more than one more attempt at making myself look good.

This might go down as the very fight of my lives - to continually back myself into the corner of being forced to believe the truth never loses its flavor. I'm brilliant at finding opportunities to cop out and retreat to a place of false security, where I prop myself up and pray my legs don't give out, at least not until the crowds have dispersed.

I know I cannot live that way, I can't possibly bear my own weight, yet I find myself inching up on the tips of my toes, over and over again.

I'm slowly overcoming this urge to rise up as I learn to lean heavy against my neighbors. They have become my Sunday School, my catechism, my communion road. We come together with all our baggage and realize just how much smaller we are than we ever knew. It is a very good thing. 

My wise, true-blue friend D.L. Mayfield says in her mic-drop of a book (one of my favorite reads ever,) Assimilate or Go Home: Notes from a Failed Missionary on Rediscovering Faith,
I am poor, in that I do not know how to love people just as they are. I am poor, in that I do not know how to love myself if I am not actively giving something. I am poor, in that I do not know if I have the strength to see the kingdom of God as it was meant to be played out. I have a poverty of relationships, in that the more I try and forget about the evils of our age and my own responsibility to them, the more my heart is revealed for what it is. In reality, I am impoverished. I am starving. I am weeping. I am oppressed by a world that runs in opposition to the dreams of God. And only when I recognize how poor I really am do I start to understand that I am right where I need to be.
So, what can I do to recognize and own my poverty today? How can I sweep my DIY support systems under the rug, stare hard at the face of Christ, and dare to believe He is enough? I honestly don't know, and I'm already afraid of failure. I know myself too well.

But I pounded the chicken thin, and though it won't be fancy, it will be enough.
I walked around quickly with a dishrag, daubing at the most egregious spots on my kitchen floor, and it will be enough.
I hauled four boxes from the mud-room to the basement, and it will have to be enough.

Here I am, neighbor. There is nothing perfect about me, my family, or our home. I value the hope for a relationship with you far too much to pretend otherwise. Come on in. Have a seat at our table, the one scarred from years of art projects and scorching hot soup. I want to see God's glory reflecting off your own scars.

I need His hope and see it so clearly when we come together and dare to be awkward humans, in need of pretty much everything.


Assimilate or Go Home releases today! I cannot champion this book enough. I find myself in every page and though really seeing myself can be painful, DL's story points straight back to the grace and hope of Jesus. Do yourself a favor and order a copy of this stunning work.

*Amazon affiliate link

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Change with the Days

The kids have been back in school for exactly one week but it feels more like a month. We're all a bit whiplashed over the switch from easy-does-it living to all-in routine, complete with a few emotional break-downs, tired kids, tired parents, forgotten instruments and gym shoes, homework angst, reading logs, and being forced to come in and shower while the neighbors are still out playing.

I have the house to myself during the day, but I'm remembering all over again what it's like to work all day and then just sort of never stop working. The hours from 8-2:30 fly by while I write and do work-related things, clean up the house, start dinner, fold laundry, run my neighbors around, and sometimes even shower. Afternoons and evenings are a rush of homework, dinner, and with any luck, a round of Yahtzee (Calvin whooped me last night). I have kids that now stay up until almost 9, and once they're down I usually remember one more work thing that I need to finish. I might have some down time around 10:30, and I'm usually up until midnight.

What I'm trying to say is, I have not hit my groove.

What I'm also trying to say is, I have it at least 89% easier than many (most?) of you, and I won't ever pretend that's not the case. I know some of you would give your left big toe to be able to work from home or walk your kids to school or hey, maybe just have another adult in the house to help you with anything ever. I think you're a total rock-star, and if I could, I would toss this computer out the window and clear a space for you at this scratched up table so we could share some muffins and tea.

I suppose we're all doing our best, and often feeling like it's not enough. I'm trying to maintain perspective and stop entertaining fantasies about not picking up after anyone in my house for two solid days just so everyone around me would see all I do for them and fall at my feet weeping with repentance, for the love

I actually added something new to my day and I think it will help, if I let it. I honestly don't remember how I even came to the decision, or why. I just know that after walking the kids to school on their second day, instead of turning around and retracing my steps back home, I crossed a different street and kept going. I walked through a different park, up into the neighborhood across the street from ours, along a fence-row that's wrought iron instead of chain-link, past rows of homes with broken window panes, keeping my eye on sidewalks buckled in different places. Today, I found a random penny, Lincoln-up, so I grabbed it. As I walked, I spotted four more, and left them for someone else to find.

So far, August is a new pair of shoes that pinch our feet. We're not quite ready. It's not broken-in yet, or maybe we aren't.

But now is now and I know my days are ordered. I know God uses the mundane to reorient my priorities. I know he uses my most fitful child to show me myself, and his love for me. I know he uses leaves rustling with the coming of rain to remind me to pray. I know he uses my place, my tiny spot on the map of his kingdom, to draw me closer to Him.

Here are a few things making me smile right now:

Pray as You Go app - I listen to this each morning while I walk, (thanks, D.L.!) and it is everything to me. Produced by Jesuits, the website describes it as "a framework for your own prayer." It lasts around 13 minutes, combining music, Bible readings, and time for reflection and prayer. You can read more about it here

Sun tea with herbed simple syrup
I brew black tea in my big jug on the front porch, then make flavored simple syrup (1 cup sugar, 1 cup water, 1 large sprig or handful of herbs, combine over heat until sugar is melted, let steep for a while, discard herbs.) Right now I have a batch of basil syrup and a batch of mint syrup. I spend part of every afternoon moderating the amount of syrup Silas adds to his tea and part of every evening telling Calvin it's too late to drink tea. 

My ever-changing book stack
When Green Becomes Tomatoes: Poems for All Seasons by Julie Fogliano
if you want to be sure
that you are nothing more than small
stand at the edge of the ocean
looking out

Let Your Life Speak by Parker Palmer
"We arrive in this world with birthright gifts - then we spend the first half of our lives abandoning them or letting others disabuse us of them. As young people, we are surrounded by expectations held by people who are not trying to discern our selfhood but to fit us into slots...we are trained away from true self toward images of acceptability; under social pressures like racism and sexism our original shape is deformed beyond recognition, and we ourselves, driven by fear, too often betray true self to gain the approval of others."

Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan
If you live in community with Latino neighbors (and I hope you do!) this is a must-read. I brought it home after hearing it recommended by my friend Osheta Moore and Calvin very casually said, "Oh, you'll like that one." Apparently some of the 4th graders read it at Chamberlain, so I spent the first half of my summer talking about it with him and our neighbor girl. (It's only $5 through Amazon Prime!)

What's something helping keep you afloat during these trying dog days?

*Amazon affiliate links used

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

On Loving Our Schools & Mom Guilt

When my family moved to a disadvantaged neighborhood complete with a Title I school (most students at or below the poverty line,) I suddenly started noticing things I had taken for granted in the past. One of those things was Box Tops for Education, those little squares on cereal boxes and all sorts of other things. For the first time, I was in a district that didn't have the funding for important things like safe playground equipment, field learning trips, and any "extra" learning enhancements.

Taking the time to clip those little ten cent tokens became totally worth it, and I invited you to begin clipping, too. Many of you began sending them to an in-need school in your local area, and others began sending them straight to us.

To put it very mildly, our teachers and staff were stunned by your graciousness. As envelopes arrived from across the United States and even across the globe, the world compressed, becoming smaller in a really beautiful way. Many kiddos in our neighborhood struggle in ways most of us will never understand. But they know there are people cheering them on, believing in them, and it matters.

You walked toward our need, and it is still making a difference.

Over the summer, we had an opportunity to make a little film our school and YOUR support of us. It's so sweet, and I wanted to share it with you. I cry every time I watch!

In other newsy news, I shared my Good Mom essay over at (in)courage today. You may have caught it the first time around, but it is one I need to personally re-read over and over again. Maybe the same is true for you, or a friend you know struggling with mom-guilt. Find it here. 

"Our job is not to lasso our kids’ hearts for God then hand Him the rope. We cannot tie our goodness to an outcome that was never ours to create. We’ve gotten this all wrong. Our job is to reflect His goodness while we are here in the land of the fumbling, wrecking-ball living. It’s time to reshape this narrative."

Happy Tuesday, pals! 

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Our Summer in Numbers

Our Summer mantra
{twist my arm!}

:: Toe nail polish colors worn - 1

:: Varieties of berries picked - 4

:: Visits to a peony farm -1

:: Visits to a lavender farm - 1

:: Visits to DeFries Garden - 4

:: Entries in our matching, spiral-bound art journals - 0

:: Practiced flash cards - 0

:: Books read - 1,000,000

:: Books left lying around the house - 999,998 (I kept one in the van and we lost one.)

:: Library fines - $11.58

:: Vacations - 0

:: Walks around Fidler Pond - 9

:: Visits to Papaw and Grandma's house - 2

:: Cousin Camp with Nana and Papa - 1

:: VBS - 2

:: Extra camps or organized summer clubs - 0

:: Trips to New Buffalo beach - 4

:: Pieces of sea glass collected - 73

:: Trips to the zoo - 0

:: Play dates - 2

:: Hours spent playing with neighbors - 4-5/day

:: Secret campfire with neighbors after kids were in bed - 2

:: Freebies launched for Falling Free pre-orders - 7

:: Potted plants planted - 4

:: Potted plants obliterated - 3

:: Average wake-up time for the kids - 6:50

:: Average wake-up time for mama - 8:30

:: Average breakfast times - 9:00

:: Homemade pie gatherings hosted on our back patio - 0

:: Canning fiascos - 1

:: Apologies - 11/day (average)

:: Emergency flowers from Cory - 2

:: Popsicles allotted per day - 3

:: Pinterest activities - 0

:: Organized art projects - 0

:: Disorganized art/woodworking/engineering projects - 2/day average (high heels x 2, bed for Charles made with hammer and nails, wheel chair, table, pretend ice cream...)

:: Wasp stings for Silas - 5 (homeboy smells really good, for reals)

:: Spider bites occurring while I was ASLEEP IN MY BED - 4

:: Invasive search for spiders in or around my bed - 100

:: Van windows left down in a rain storm - 2

:: Parking tickets - 1

:: Toll tickets - 2

:: Speeding tickets - 1

:: Number of times I cried - 5

:: Number of times I cried over my speeding ticket - 4

:: Number of times I believe my emotional priorities are healthy - 0

:: Visits to ER - 1

:: Blood Draws for Calvin - 5

:: Number of times I cooked a proper dinner - 1.35

:: Average heat index - face of the sun

:: Overnight house guests - 8

:: Salsa nights - infinity

:: Rode our bikes 2 miles in 95 degree heat to the thrift store then had to wear plastic grocery bags like back-packs on the way home and nearly died of heat stroke and angst - 1

:: Dollars spent on groceries - $900

:: Number of times Calvin and Ruby baked without help from me - 3

:: Episodes of 30 Rock: 61

:: Emergency G&T's - 4

:: Full work days - 1

:: Number of times I thought or said "This has been my favorite summer ever." - 100+

{My kiddos went back to school today, so summer is basically over for us. It has been so, so good.}

(A number post from SEVEN years ago. Oh mah word.)